Who is Colin Kaepernick?
Kaepernick is a quarterback in the NFL who has been without a team since March 2017. He played for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 until his contract ran out at the end of the 2016 season. He started all 16 games in his last season with the 49ers but decided not to renew his contract and become a free agent. His last season also started all sorts of controversy…
National Anthem Protest
During preseason in 2016, Kaepernick was noticed to be sitting down during the US national anthem, while players are usually stood up. Speaking about this, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” In the next game, Kaepernick decided to kneel instead of sitting down as he had previously. He explained this was due to a conversation with former NFL player and military veteran Nate Boyer. Boyer told Kaepernick that to kneel down during the anthem would show respect to those serving or who have served in the US military whilst still making his point about the oppression of black people. Soon, many other players decided to protest the anthem whilst others showed support.
At its height, the protest stretched to 200 players during the 2017 season following statements made by President Donald Trump. The protest also spread to other sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. For the 2018 season, players on the field for the anthem must be standing or face disciplinary action from the League. If players do not wish to stand, they must remain in the tunnel while the anthem takes place.
The Reaction – Support
Kaepernick has received support for his stance across the sport and around the world. A few weeks after his initial protest, his jersey was the highest selling NFL jersey on the NFL official website. Former President Barack Obama supported his constitutional right to protest. On September 25, 2017, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee knelt in the House of Representatives and was followed by Congressman Mark Pocan the next day.
Major sponsors Nike, Ford and Under Armour defended the right to protest and supported its athletes in doing so. Kaepernick’s former coach, Jim Harbaugh, strongly supported his player saying “His willingness to take a position at personal cost is now part of our American story.”
Stevie Wonder showed his support by kneeling at the 2017 Global Citizen Festival stating “tonight, I’m taking a knee for America.” This was followed by kneeling protests, on September 24th 2017, by musicians Pharrell Williams, Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, John Legend and Roger Waters. Members of the casts of Star Trek: Discovery and Grey’s Anatomy also pictured themselves taking the knee in support. More in protest to his wider policies than the National Anthem Protest specifically, the Super Bowl Champions the Philadelphia Eagles rejected an invitation to the White House by President Trump, an invitation that The Donald rescinded once he found this out.
The Reaction – Opposition
While Kaepernick’s jersey may have been a high seller, the effect on NFL business overall has been negative. Kaepernick was named the most disliked player in 2016 and viewing figures for NFL games have plummeted, with fans boycotting due to the protests. The most high profile opposition has come from the White House itself. President Donald Trump has strongly condemned any protests to the National Anthem, calling on players to be dropped and even fired. Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game between his hometown team Indianapolis Colts and the 49ers due to players kneeling, saying “President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”
The CEO of Papa John’s blamed the protests on a 24% drop in sales, saying the “controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country” and later criticized the NFL chiefs for not addressing the problem. Sanderson Farms even suggested that the NFL protests were to do with the fall in chicken wing prices. Century Link and Air Academy Federal Credit Union dropped sponsorship of Brandon Marshall for joining in the protest.
NASCAR owners supported Donald Trump’s stance, threatening to fire drivers who protested. The US hockey coach said he would bench players for the entire game if they knelt for the anthem. Interestingly, longtime civil rights activist Jim Brown, who initially supported Kaepernick’s views, was against protesting the national anthem, stating “I’m an American. I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem. This is my country, and I’ll work out the problems, but I’ll do it in an intelligent manner.”
Without a Team
Colin Kaepernick still does not have a team and, in all likelihood, won’t play another NFL game. He went unsigned throughout the entire 2017 season, which he sees as suspicious. Kaepernick is currently considering legal action, as he thinks that NFL owners got together to blackball him from the game. He filed a grievance with the NFL in November 2017 and in August of this year, the NFL’s request to dismiss the case was rejected, meaning there is sufficient evidence to take the case to trial.
Many NFL pundits and players believe Kaepernick is a good enough quarterback to be playing in the NFL, so believe the reasons for his exclusion cannot be sporting ones, although there are others who believe his performance has declined. Many teams may not think he is worth the hassle. Donald Trump thinks he would use Twitter to create a public relations crisis for any team that signed him, and Trump should know all about that.
One other problem Kaepernick could have in finding a team is due to his girlfriend, radio host Nessa Diab. When Kaepernick was reportedly negotiating with Baltimore Ravens, Diab caused the offer to be rescinded. According to former Ravens player Ray Lewis, this was because Diab posted a tweet that compared Ravens owner Steve Biscotti and Ray Lewis to a slave owner and a slave. With comments like that, it may not be a surprise if other teams are put off signing him.
The controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick continues to this day. After being unveiled as a major part of Nike’s new advertising campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the company’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan, critics of his filmed themselves burning Nike clothes and trainers. Nike share prices dropped 2.3% amid the backlash too. Despite this, Nike received over $40m worth of media exposure. Nike is banking on the fact that the majority of their customers are under 35-year-olds, who are more likely to support Colin Kaepernick than the older generation.
Hero or Villain?
This is a big question which has divided America. Many see any protest of the national anthem and the flag of USA as unforgivable. National pride is a huge thing for a lot of Americans and this, they feel, tarnishes it. Many others believe it to be a slap in the face to those military personnel serving today and veterans of the past. However, a lot of those same people are the ones that only seem to care about homeless vets when it is convenient for their argument.
On the other hand, Kaepernick has proven to be a hero for standing up against the serious problem America has with regards to police brutality towards black people. His actions have inspired many others to join his protest and helped raise awareness of the issue. Every week, more and more examples come to light which proves Kaepernick’s point and if America is to heal the great divide that exists still to this day, then it must address these sorts of issues.
One problem with these protests is that it seems to have turned in to an issue of whether you support Donald Trump or not. The treatment of black people by police goes a lot further back than Trump’s presidency and whether you support Trump or not, this issue is bigger than that. It is fully understandable for people to see any protest of the national anthem and the flag as disrespectful or going against your country, however, the issues raised by Kaepernick are seriously important. He took great steps to show this was not about the military. In a civilized society, the right to a peaceful protest should always be protected. Colin Kaepernick has shown that this is one protest that won’t be ignored.